If you want to know where a band’s heading, it’s a good idea to see where they’ve come from. The acts with the most interesting future often have, shall we say, a unique past.Dublin’s Betamax Format are no exception, as Darren Moloney explains. “We started about a year ago, writing stuff that sounded like horror movie soundtracks from the late seventies and early eighties. We were really obsessed by video nasties. We’d take tracks from stuff like ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ and ‘Dawn Of The Dead’ and do really synthy music.
"We took it from there; at the start it was cult eighties soundtrack music. Then the Wedding Present picked us up to go on tour with them and we went round Ireland with them in February. They were our first big gigs really”.
That was quite a coup for such a new band. The tour, far from being the nostalgia trip you might have expected, saw the headliners staking their claim to a valid place in the current music scene. Darren agrees. “There was a person connected with their tour management at the second gig we ever played. It’s really weird, at that stage we were still an instrumental band but they liked it and passed a CD onto the band.
"David Gedge got in touch and wanted us to do a few shows. It was cool, we were the first band to support them in eight years.
Such incidents have all been part of the group’s rapid progress, from weird instrumental band to, well, weird instrumental band with songs.
“It’s developed a lot and only over the period of a year. It started out as this experimental type of thing. My background is in punk, new wave and LA hardcore like Black Flag and the Germs. I wanted to take that. People are doing synthy stuff but they’re not doing much with it. If you look at bands that used synths in punk music, like the Screamers and Suicide, they were doing really interesting stuff, then it just died. Bands like the Killers are just indie bands with synths, they’re not using it as a proper instrument, more as something in the background.
"We wanted to push the fact that we were using synths for our basslines, that we use vocoders and that the shows are very aggressive. We break a lot of stuff when we play”.
Would a band like Nine Inch Nails be an influence in the way they approach technology?
“More Add N to X. They were the forerunners of what we’re doing. With Nine Inch Nails everything is sequenced. I hate the word electronica, it’s just boring. It’s not real. We play with live drums and nothing is sequenced, it’s different every time. All these bands have drummers playing to click tracks. When we play, if something goes out of time it sounds more organic, it’s amazing”.
He has little time for the kind of acts who turn up with a laptop and nothing else. “It’s like listening to a CD. If you want to hear music like that, why can’t it be played the way that normal bands play music? It can be loud. I hate electronica music that just fades into the background. It can be aggressive, like punk, and it can be taken to different places. Every time we play we end up smashing things by accident. The very first gig we played we blew the PA. It’s exciting; we don’t know what’s going to happen”.
One thing that the band can’t avoid, and make no effort to, is their debt to the eighties – it’s there from the name onward. These are either good or bad times to pledge such an allegiance, depending on how you view the nature of music industry scenes. Darren isn’t too bothered either way. “A lot of the bands that they reference would be bands that I’ve always been into, such as Devo, early Tubeway Army, even the Queen soundtrack for ‘Flash Gordon’…” Sorry, what was that?
“The first record I ever got was the 7” single of ‘Flash’ and the B-side, ‘Football Fight’, sounds more like Betamax Format than anything I’ve ever heard. You think of Queen as this big guitar band and then they put out that soundtrack. I still play it when I’m DJing”.
“We’re definitely not a retro band," insists Moloney, "A lot of the stuff we use would be equipment from the early eighties, but we’re just replicating the period, we’re trying to do something different, not to copy what’s gone before, because what’s the point of that?”
Betamax Format are a band who see everything in terms of the big picture. They’ve already started playing in Europe and have management in Berlin.
“It was through the Wedding Present tour. The woman who booked that tour, Hilary Kavanagh, is now our manager. She picked us up and started to get gigs. The Wedding Present tour was the first time we’d had songs with vocals. She asked us to play at a festival in Berlin with Ladytron, the Kills, Ian Brown and a lot of the Berlin underground bands”.
You can see the European scene providing the band with a natural home. “That’s true. In Berlin electro is dying and there’s a desire for something different, something beyond what electroclash was, bringing a more aggressive, punky element into electronic music. I guess that suits us and people have really taken to it over there”.